To set the stage for this story, the best I can think to suggest is that it’s a twisted abomination crafted by combining Willard (either the 1971 classic or the superior 2003 remake) with the Clive Barker story, “In the Hills, the Cities.” That doesn’t truly capture the sheer giant monster lunacy of what Wilburn’s created here, but it’ll whet the appetite and prepare the reader as best one can. A family curse comes on with a vengeance, rampaging across the southeast, leaving a swath of devastation that can only be explained as a natural disaster. To call it an act of God would be to beg the question of what sort of God would allow such a monstrosity to exist. The intense pacing of Wilburn’s tale propels us forward even as we want to turn back, knowing that nothing good can come of what he’s racing us toward. If he’d written a novel, including more of the family history and details of the events in the distant past, I’d have gleefully settled in to read the whole thing. As captivating as the story gets, with the expanding threat thundering its way across the landscape, I would love to dive into the origins of the curse in greater detail. There’s a thoroughly fascinating story to be told, and maybe if we beg Wilburn enough–in the form of spreading the word of the Ratman–he’ll find himself compelled to share that part of the tale with us in similar detail.
This novella was released as part of the 31 Days of Godless event at http://www.godless.com and you can pick it up for yourself by going to the website or by downloading the app. The link is below:
Few authors could successfully pack as much intrigue, mystery, and suspense into a novella as John Scalzi. Murder By Other Means is a prime example of Scalzi at his fast-paced best. At the heart of this story is a question, “How do you successfully assassinate people when 99.99% of murder victims reappear–unharmed–in their homes, only moments later?” We return to the world of Tony Valdez, the titular Dispatcher of the previous story in this sequence, not too long after we left him at the end of The Dispatcher. Legitimate work has dried up for him and the city of Chicago is on an austerity budget that prohibits him from finding many side gigs on the up-and-up. This is where we meet up with him again, as he enters a law firm for a less than legal utilization of his skills. From there it’s a dizzying spiral of international corporate intrigue, organized crime, suicide, and survival…with a healthy dose of police procedural and noir-ish detective story providing the framework. This is a better story than The Dispatcher, which was a pretty high bar to clear. Zachary Quinto again provides narration for the story, and there’s probably no need for me to point out that he’s beyond excellent in all respects. I can’t imagine Tony with a different voice.
Josh Malerman’s Goblin is a fascinating glimpse into a truly peculiar town, not altogether dissimilar from some of the fictional Maine locales made popular by Stephen King. Also, like King, the tales Malerman weaves of the rainy town of Goblin are unevenly paced and of vastly different content and quality. This does not, as one might suspect, take anything away from the amazing quality of this collection of interconnected novellas. It works out perhaps better than Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country did, where that collection wove together connected tales of a single family and this one immerses us in the haunted title town. Goblin is a place of near-constant rainfall, a place haunted and evil before man ever made the mistake of settling there in a town built on a history of bloody violence and betrayal. It is a town where the impenetrable North Woods are home to giant predatory owls and a witch who breaks the hearts of those she tells her stories to, where inhuman police produce shivers in even the most courageous residents, and where the key to the city has been missing for years. The Prologue & Epilogue (Welcome & Make Yourself At Home) provide an almost perfect bookend to the stories contained within this book…especially since the tales reach their respective crescendos at approximately the same time on the same night of nightmares and downpours…as a reckoning of sorts falls upon the town and its residents. A Man In Slices tells us a story of twisted friendship and the sacrifices such a friendship might require. Kamp delves into the paranoid, fearful mental landscape of a man who fears–well, to borrow from FDR–fear itself. Sure, he’s terrified of encountering a ghost, but it’s the resulting fear upon experiencing that encounter that he’s truly terrified of. Happy Birthday, Hunter! brings us face-to-face with the manic, self-absorbed, single-minded dedication of a big game hunter and his overwhelming need to pursue the greatest game of his life…and a wife with an unwelcome surprise present. Presto introduces us to a world of magic and illusion that might just be more real than it seems. A Mix-Up At the Zoo is a sad story about a simple, friendly giant of a man who spends too much time burning the candle at both ends and gets confused about where he is and what he’s doing. The ending of this particular story, as predictable as it might have been, was all the more heartbreaking for playing out exactly as a reader anticipates it will. The Hedges splits its narrative time between telling us a fantastic, beautiful love story and exploring the mysteries we’ve already been exposed to as we reached this point in the collection. This is the story where we finally begin to glimpse precisely why the residents of Goblin are so terrified of the police, and rightfully so. Yes, this collection is uneven…but it’s telling us the story of a town through the interrelated snapshots of the residents…and that unevenness makes it feel all the more real. No real city is uniformly interesting or captivating to all comers when we’re diving into the lives of those who reside within. In the end, Malerman does what he set out to do–I suspect–by crafting a place that becomes more real to the readers than many real-world places ever might be. This is doubly impressive when one considers just how unreal Goblin is.
I’m copying over some reviews of titles I’d written up in 2018 and earlier, just in case these titles are new for other people.
For a novella of only 50+ pages, Detritus In Love by Mercedes M. Yardley and John Boden is still somehow a huge story. With eloquence and elegance of language from the authors we follow the sad life of Detritus, a young man who befriends dead people and falls in love with a dead girl, who sees the decay and corruption in the cruel world around him through his third eye, and who lives with the dread that The Opposite is coming for him. It’s a story that is equal parts disorienting and captivating, fantastic and horrifying, as it builds up to a conclusion that is anything but cheerful.
I’ve read multiple books by this author and each one is somehow so vastly different from the one before it that they could have been written by a totally different author. Other books have been surreal, mysterious, even hilarious at points. This one is brutal. It’s bad enough to imagine a family of four needing to huddle together in a cramped, windowless bathroom during a tornado warning. That scenario, in and of itself, is sufficient to serve as horror. When the father is a mean-spirited alcoholic, things get less pleasant. Now, imagine a tree falling through the roof and blocking the only exit from that bathroom, the door only opening enough to slip an arm through the gap as rain and wind blow through what once was a bedroom. And this is only the beginning. Max Booth III manages to obscure the lines between past and present as well as delusion and reality to the extent that the latter half of the novella becomes a dizzying blur. Claustrophobic discomfort, occultism, and familial tension blend together until, like the characters, you begin to forget how long you’ve been there with them. Looking back, I’m still uncertain just how long these people are trapped in that bathroom, but it’s surely a week or two. The fragmentary glimpses of the world outside of the bathroom itself are enticing and they leave you simultaneously wanting to see it for yourself and turn away and remain where it’s safe (relatively). This novella is not for the overly sensitive or the squeamish, because there are some aspects of it that are sure to make a lot of readers uncomfortable…but it is so excellent.
Since originally writing this review of the novella in May of 2020, the author has adapted it to a screenplay that has since been made into a major motion picture, currently in post-production.